Review: “Beneath This Mask” by Meghan March

Quick review for a quick read. My first experience with a Meghan March book was an overall decent read – albeit with common problems and cliches found in New Adult titles. It held my attention from beginning to end from the strength of the writing and seeing what would happen to the characters.

Charlie (Charlotte) is a woman on the run after her father was involved in a high-profile money scheme that left her family heavily ostracized – socially and running afoul of the law. Charlie goes on the run, changes her name, and makes her living as a tattoo receptionist in New Orleans. She’s in an open romantic relationship with her employer, scrapes by with her income, and tries to keep her head away from the spotlight as much as possible. But meeting a high-profile man whom she falls for makes her question the life of lies she leads and what she’s willing to put at risk.

Simon is a veteran with deeply rooted scars returning home to carry on the family dynasty, potentially eyeing a run for public office. He meets Charlie over a series of encounters where the two have undeniable emotional and sexual chemistry with each other. Gradually he opens up to her, but he can’t understand her secrecy and inability to open up to him. They endure various hurdles throughout the course of their relationship, some of which I thought were really palpable – in particular Simon’s struggles with PTSD and Charlie’s feelings of insecurity and being forced to grow up from the social bubble she grew up in.

While “Beneath This Mask” carries a number of weights for the characters, there were many conflicts I could tell were constructed to force the characters into a tight spot, which didn’t feel organic or handled well when taking the narrative as a collective whole. It’s not that these conflicts weren’t realistic or things that could potentially happen to the pair, but how they were arranged specifically felt like a beat-by-beat sequence where the wedges were coordinated to drive the characters apart. This definitely felt like a standard New Adult romance title which carries some of the same problematic cliches and tropes that plague this subsection of fiction. It’s a shame because March actually does a fair job with giving an eye to her characters and spending intimate time with developing how they shoulder the weight of their problems – the writing of this particular work is strong for what it works with. I could definitely feel for both Charlie and Simon in moments for their family situations and past traumas, but the depth of these characters felt shortchanged by the coordinated conflicts, character assumptions for conflict, and other tropes. Not to mention…

“Ba-da-da-da, I’m an insta-love machine, and I won’t work for nobody but yoooou…” is definitely a thing here. Ugh. (I haven’t pulled that reference out in a while, but seriously, instalove doesn’t help these characters stand out as much as they could be.)

I can name specific trigger warnings for this book in relation to scenes of physical and sexual assault and a very (read: VERY) graphic animal injury scene.

Overall, it was okay for the experience and genre with writing that was better than standard New Adult. I probably could’ve potentially continued with this series just to see where it went and if it managed to transcend its cliches and undertreatment of characterization, but I think I’m fine with letting this series and author’s work go.

Overall score: 2.5/5 stars.

Note: I received this as an ARC from NetGalley from the publisher.

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Sep 13, Grand Remembrances

Today is Grandparents Day in the United States. Being a Grand is a special honor. I feel very blessed that my wife and I have two grandchildren. We were able to visit them today. Yes, we are still being cautious with the coronavirus, but we also find it very difficult to not see them when they live so close. So today we did drop by to visit Jacob (age 10) and Sophia (age 7) along with their parents. We brought donuts and caught up with them. Our grandchildren are still pretty young and this is a precious time in their lives – and ours!

I wish I had known my grandparents better. We never lived in the same place. Dad was a career Air Force pilot, so we moved around a lot. But we did get to see them once in a while when they would visit us, or we them.

A Plague of Giants

There are five known magical ‘kennings’ or types: air, water, fire, earth, and plants. Each nation specializes in of these kennings, and the magic influences the society. There’s a big pitfall with this diversity of ability and locale–not everyone gets along.

Enter the Hathrim giants, or ‘lavaborn’ whose kenning is fire. Where they live the trees that fuel their fire are long gone, but the giants are definitely not welcome anywhere else. They’re big, they’re violent, and they’re ruthless. When a volcano erupts and they are forced to evacuate, they take the opportunity to relocate. They don’t care that it’s in a place where they aren’t wanted.

I first read Kevin Hearne’s Iron Druid books and loved them (also the quirky The Tales of Pell), so was curious about this new venture, starting with A PLAGUE OF GIANTS. Think Avatar: The Last Airbender meets Jim Butcher’s Codex Alera series. Elemental magic, a variety of races, different lands. And it’s all thrown at you from page one.

But this story is told a little differently. It starts at the end of the war, after a difficult victory, and a bard with earth kenning uses his magic to re-tell the story of the war to a city of refugees. And it’s this movement back and forth in time and between key players in this war that we get a singularly grand view of the war as a whole. Hearne uses this method to great effect.

There are so many interesting characters in this book that I can’t cover them all here. Often in books like this such a large cast of ‘main’ character can make the storytelling suffer, especially since they don’t have a lot of interaction with each other for the first 3/4 of the book–but it doesn’t suffer, thankfully. And the characterization is good enough, despite these short bursts, that by the end we understand these people and care about what happens to them.

If there were a main character it would be Dervan, a historian who is assigned to record (also spy on?) the bard’s stories. He finds himself caught up in machinations he feels unfit to survive. Fintan is the bard from another country, who at first is rather mysterious and his true personality is hidden by the stories he tells; it takes a while to understand him. Gorin Mogen is the leader of the Hathrim giants who decide to find a new land to settle. He’s hard to like, but as far as villains go, you understand his motivations and he can be even a little convincing. There’s Abhi, the son of hunters, who decides hunting isn’t the life for him–and unexpectedly finds himself on a quest for the sixth kenning. And Gondel Vedd, a scholar of linguistics who finds himself tasked with finding a way to communicate with a race of giants never seen before (definitely not Hathrim) and stumbles onto a mystery no one could have guessed: there may be a seventh kenning.

There are other characters, but what makes them all interesting is that they’re regular people (well, maybe not Gorin Mogen or the viceroy–he’s a piece of work) who become heroes in their own little ways, whether it’s the teenage girl who isn’t afraid to share vital information, to the scholars who suddenly find how crucial their minds are to the survival of a nation, to the humble public servants who find bravery when they need it most. This is a story of loss, love, redemption, courage, unity, and overcoming despair to not give up. All very human experiences by simple people who do extraordinary things.

Hearne’s worldbuilding is engaging. He doesn’t bottle feed you, at first it feels like drinking from a hydrant, but then you settle in and pick up things along the way. Then he shows you stuff with a punch to the gut. This is no fluffy world with simple magic without price. All the magic has a price, and more often than not it leads you straight to death’s door. For most people just the seeking of the magic will kill you. I particularly enjoyed the scenes with Ahbi and his discovery of the sixth kenning and everything associated with it. But giants? I mean, really? It isn’t bad enough fighting people who can control fire that you have to add that they’re twice the size of normal people? For Hearne if it’s war, the stakes are pretty high, and it gets ugly.

The benefit of the storytelling style is that the book, despite its length, moves along steadily (Hearne is no novice, here). The bits of story lead you along without annoying cliffhangers (mostly), and I never got bored with the switch between characters. It was easy to move between them, and they were recognizable enough that I got lost or confused. The end of the novel felt a little abrupt, but I guess that has more to do with I was ready for the story to continue, despite the exiting climax.

If you’re looking for epic fantasy with fun storytelling and clever worldbuilding, check out A PLAGUE OF GIANTS.

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The Artwork Of Gary Choo

Gary Choo is a concept artist/illustrator based in Singapore. I’ve know Gary for a good many years ( 17, actually ), working together in animation studios in Singapore like Silicon Illusions and Lucasfilm. Gary currently runs an art team at Mighty Bear Games, but when time allows he also draws covers for Marvel comics, and they’re amazing –

The Art Of Gary Choo
The Art Of Gary Choo
The Art Of Gary Choo
The Art Of Gary Choo
The Art Of Gary Choo

To see more of Gary’s work or to engage him for freelance work, head down to his ArtStation.

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